2014-01-30 / Front Page

TA grad remembered for drive

Joyce Bonenberger died in a fire that killed her husband and son
By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer


Joyce Bonenberger, a member of the Thornton Academy class of 1980, is pictured here with her husband Dennis Brough and their son, Trevor. All three were killed in a house fire at their home in Casa Grande, Ariz. last month. (Courtesy photo) Joyce Bonenberger, a member of the Thornton Academy class of 1980, is pictured here with her husband Dennis Brough and their son, Trevor. All three were killed in a house fire at their home in Casa Grande, Ariz. last month. (Courtesy photo) SACO – On Friday, Dec. 13, Joyce Bonenberger, 51, a member of the class of 1980 at Thornton Academy, was killed in the early morning when her home in Casa Grande, Ariz., was destroyed by a fire. Also killed were her husband, Dennis Brough, and her 11-year-old son, Trevor Brough.

The tragedy has raised suspicions of arson, but Tim Gaffney, director of administration at Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, said no new information will be released until the medical examiner and arson examiner submit their reports later this month. Lorinda Hayes, whose birth was attended by Bonenberger’s mother, is a longtime childhood friend of Bonenberger who now lives in Chicago. Hayes said the two friends often mused about returning to Maine.

“We both missed our Maine roots,” Hayes said. “She loved living there, she loved going to Thornton Academy. She always felt a real strong connection to Maine and would tell me she was missing it and wanted to go back and be by the ocean.”

Bonenberger was a high-achieving student at Thornton Academy who moved to Ohio to study medicine at Ohio State University College of Medicine. She graduated in 1988. At the time of her death, she was a chief surgeon at Casa Grande Regional Medical Center in Casa Grande, Ariz., specializing in colon and rectal surgery.

Hayes said Bonenberger was smart, funny and compassionate.

“If someone called up and said, ‘Hey Joyce, can you help me?’ she would always help.” Hayes said. “She went out of her way to try and listen to everyone. She would have good conversations that were not arguments with people who maybe didn’t think the way she did. She was able to find common ground with different people.”

Paula Nichols Brown, a classmate from first grade through high school, said she was able to catch up with Bonenberger when she moved to Arizona. Brown lives outside of Phoenix, about 45 minutes away from Casa Grande.

“It was nice to play catch up,” Brown said. “Joyce was very funny and smart … she was a geek.”

Brown said Bonenberger was always involved in activities at school such as drama and band.

A photo of the two friends as children performing in “Hello Dolly” appeared in a local newspaper.

“If you look at the photo,” said Brown, “you’ll notice that she’s playing a doctor.”

Eric Purvis of Saco was one year behind Bonenberger in school, but knew her through church activities both attended at Bible Baptist Church in Saco. Purvis said he and Bonenberger participated in Sunday school or camping and hiking trips, even through high school.

“She was a great person, very smart,” Purvis said. “I was not surprised that she became a doctor. She was friendly, outgoing, had a great sense of humor – she was always smiling and always happy.”

Joyce Leary Clark, a schoolmate who was one year behind Bonenberger, said she remembers taking trips to Bowdoin College with Bonenberger to go ice skating, and listening to The Beatles album, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at Bonenberger’s home.

“Her parents were not really happy about the rock music,” Clark said. “It was about the wildest we got. It was a big deal that her parents let her have it.”

Clark said when Bonenberger was graduating and looking for schools, she told her guidance counselor she wanted to become a doctor, but was encouraged instead to go into nursing. But Bonenberger was not the type of person to be deterred from her goals, Clark said.

“I can’t figure out how she had enough time to do what she did,” Clark said. “She was always generous and willing to do for others. She was always involved in church, she was homeschooling Trevor, and was chief of surgery at a hospital. She was not a super-serious type of over achiever, she would talk to anyone and treat them like an equal.”

Hayes said the news of Bonenberger’s death was “unbelievable.”

“Here is someone who had a wonderful family, a charmed life, a network of friends and loved ones and a job she really enjoyed. She was in the prime of her life,” Hayes said. “No one had a negative thing to say about her. What a thing that says about your life when people always speak highly of you.”

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